Seth Mabry Morris, MD (1867-1951)
Professor of Chemistry
When he came to UTMB he primarily taught chemistry. Everyone, students as well as the medical staff, got to calling him “Old Test Tube” rather than Dr. Morris. He apparently didn’t mind.
He quickly earned that name and his reputation as the faculty’s character by doing such things as throwing erasers at students who were dosing off, and writing chemical equations on the blackboard with his right hand while simultaneously erasing them with his left. All the while trains were passing and switching outside of his lecture room in Old Red, drowning out big pieces of his lectures. Even with all of those interruptions, he never repeated himself.
It furthered his reputation as the medical school’s character when Dr. Morris brought the very first automobile to Galveston. It was a 1902 Oldsmobile, and many of the townspeople thought him to be some sort of evil witch doctor because he was able to ride around in a carriage without a horse pulling it.
And then wouldn’t you know the UTMB witch doctor, would be the one who came up with Texas’ first x-ray machine.
It took him all summer in the basement of Old Red to add the many turns of copper wire necessary to construct the massive coil. The other important component was called a Crooke’s tube, and they found one of them for sale in Philadelphia. When it was finished, the whole thing was submerged in a crock of heavy oil which acted as an insulator. That was UTMB’s first X-ray machine.
Toward the end of the summer, Dr. Morris and the head of the pharmacology department, Dr. R.R.D. Cline, took the first X-ray ever in Texas. It was a photograph of the bones in a nurse’s hand.
To show the community how much on the cutting edge of medicine UTMB was, Dr. Morris convinced a downtown department store, Fellman’s, to display that X-ray of the bones of the nurse’s hand in one of its windows. A couple of days later the police had to ask Dr. Morris to remove it. The public was so intrigued by it that the sheer numbers of them standing in front of the window to see it were seriously obstructing the sidewalk and the street.
And wouldn’t you know that the very first time the X-ray machine was used in surgery at UTMB’s hospital it was for the purpose of finding and then removing a bullet from a man’s leg. Naturally someone had shot him during an argument in a downtown bar.
Dr. Morris did most of the X-ray studies at UTMB until 1913. That was when the university opened its first X-ray department and it was headed by Dr. James E. Thompson. Dr. Morris went on to become a professor of ophthalmology. He was on the faculty until 1937, and died in 1951. He was the last of the original faculty.